BEIJING — The Trump administration says the mere potential for Beijing to influence the Chinese technology giant Huawei is enough to justify a law passed last year restricting federal agencies’ business with the company.
Huawei has challenged the law in federal court, arguing that Congress produced no proof that the company was a security threat before acting against it, and that it was being punished without due process.
The United States government’s latest argument in the case, outlined in a court filing this week, suggests that the Trump administration believes it may not have to produce conclusive evidence of past wrongdoing by Huawei to uphold at least some of its actions against the company.
Huawei executives have long expressed frustration over American officials’ clamping down on the company without presenting evidence that Beijing could use Huawei products for espionage, as Washington has claimed for years.
European and Asian officials have also complained privately that recent American intelligence briefings have not demonstrated clearly how the Chinese government has used Huawei to steal information.
“We remain confident in our case,” a Huawei spokesman said in a statement. The government’s motion does not address the “fundamental” issue, the statement says, which is “that the law selectively imposed substantial restrictions on sales of Huawei equipment for the purpose of driving Huawei out of the United States.”
The company, China’s leading maker of telecommunications equipment and smartphones, has found itself at the center of the vast trade and technology conflict between China and the United States. In May, the Trump administration curbed Huawei’s ability to buy American parts and technology, potentially impairing its business worldwide. But after meeting with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, last weekend, President Trump said he would ease some of those restrictions.
Congress prohibited federal agencies and contractors from using Huawei equipment as part of a spending bill passed last year. That led the company to sue the United States government in federal court in March, arguing that the law was a “bill of attainder,” or an unconstitutional legislative punishment. A few months later, Huawei filed a motion asking the court to accelerate the suit.
In a court motion this week, United States government lawyers responded by saying that Congress’s purpose was not to punish Huawei, but to protect American networks from Chinese cyberattacks. The law’s “prophylactic” intent means that it is not a bill of attainder, the government says in its motion.
The motion also argues that it does not matter that Congress did not conclusively show that Huawei had done something wrong in the past.
Congress enacted the law, the motion says, because it determined that widely held suspicions about the company’s ties to the Chinese state made “Huawei’s products particularly susceptible to the prospective threat of wrongdoing by the Chinese government.”
The legislative branch has “substantial leeway,” the motion says, to make “predictive” judgments of this sort.
Huawei has repeatedly said it is a privately owned company and does not take orders from the Chinese government.